Everyone will experience anxiety from time to time. It’s a normal human emotion and it is there for a reason. It protects us from danger and is a normal reaction to stress. It can even motivate to work harder and faster. However, the demands and stresses of modern life can make experiencing anxiety more frequent. So it can be tough to tell the difference between “normal” anxiety and anxiety disorders. If anxiety is affecting you or someone you know, it’s important to learn the difference, and to seek help.
An anxiety disorder involves intense and excessive anxiety, along with other debilitating symptoms. There are many different types/manifestations of anxiety disorder. These include, but are not limited to:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). People with this condition have irrational fears and apprehension about minor things such as their health, work or personal relationships.
Panic Disorder (PD). People who have this condition experience sudden and unpredictable episodes of panic in situations where other people would not be afraid. They are convinced something disastrous will happen, that they may die or go crazy.
Phobia. A phobia is an intense fear about a particular object or situation. It might be a fear of heights, closed spaces, water, dogs, snakes or spiders. When the feared object or situation isn’t present, the person is perfectly normal. But when it is, they become highly anxious and experience a panic attack.
Agoraphobia. This is a fear of public places. It’s the most common of anxiety disorders, accounting for about half of all cases. People with agoraphobia experience anxiety in crowded places of all kinds, confined spaces, public transport, lifts, freeways and heights. To avoid this happening, they often stay at home and won’t leave.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). People with this condition experience constant unwanted thoughts such as fears. To get rid of them, they may perform elaborate rituals like washing hands or checking things over and over. These rituals are usually time-consuming and interfere with normal life.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This condition follows a terrifying event such as war, torture, a vehicle accident, fire or personal experience of violence. For months or years after the event, sufferers continue to have frightening thoughts and memories. Sometimes these thoughts are triggered by similar images on TV. People with PTSD also often suffer depression and substance abuse.
Social Anxiety Disorder: People with social anxiety disorder do not believe that their anxiety is related to a medical or physical illness or disease. This type of anxiety occurs in most social situations, especially when the person feels on display or is the center of attention. The socially-anxious person has extremely high anxiety when they’re put into a position to make small talk with others or interact in a group. The anxiety becomes worse when the person fears that they are going to be singled out, ridiculed, criticized, embarrassed, or belittled.
Here are several key differences between “normal” anxiety and an anxiety disorder:
Stressor. Usually normal anxiety occurs in response to a stressor, such as an exam, an upcoming interview, a fight with a friend or a new job. When you struggle with an anxiety disorder you’re anxious almost or all of the time, yet there are times when you can’t spot the source of the stress. For instance, people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can have a difficult time just getting through the day. Even seemingly small responsibilities, like paying the bills, make them feel anxious.
Intensity and Length. An anxiety disorder also produces intense and excessive emotional responses. Even if you’re reacting to a stressor, your anxiety is disproportionate to that stressor. Many people are on edge before an exam, but a person with an anxiety disorder might be anxious several weeks beforehand, and will experience intense symptoms right before and during the exam. Also, normal anxiety is fleeting, while an anxiety disorder is ongoing and the feelings can last weeks or months.
Other symptoms. Excessive anxiety and worry aren’t the only symptoms that accompany an anxiety disorder. There are other physical symptoms, too: dizziness, light-headedness, sweating, trembling, heart pounding, headaches and nausea. You feel like you can’t breathe, can’t talk or have to go to the bathroom frequently. People with anxiety also report feeling detachment or disconnected from reality. They feel like they can’t think straight and have difficulty concentrating. Other psychological symptoms are also present. Individuals experience racing or negative thoughts, are unable to concentrate and have worries about day-to-day things.
Impairment. When you struggle with an anxiety disorder, it affects your entire life. It impairs or interferes with your study, job and daily life. Avoidance is a symptom of some anxiety disorders and can be quite debilitating. In other words, the anxiety can cause you to avoid normal activities. You might skip work or a social event, procrastinate going food shopping or avoid anything that makes you feel anxious.
If It’s Excessive Anxiety
If you’re struggling with overwhelming anxiety and you can relate to some of the above, don’t hesitate to seek help. First, know that you’re not alone. About 40 million adults in America have an anxiety disorder. They’re also the main mental health issue with Irish people, particularly in their 20s in 30s. Secondly, anxiety disorders are treatable. In fact, they’re one of the most treatable conditions of all emotional disorders. Studies show that medication can help, psychotherapy can help, but the most consistently helpful treatment is a combination of the two. Please check out my list of organisations and helplines on the homepage of the blog if you feel you are ready to talk to someone.
If you wish to book a psychotherapy session either in person or via Skype with Bébhinn please email firstname.lastname@example.org